Satan’s Ethical Code vs. God’s?

It has been funny to see what atheists have had to say about the Seven Tenets posted online by a Satanic Temple. You can read them below. What is interesting to me is the way these newly-minted tenets of a newly-minted religious group are used as a basis for mockery, saying something like “Look, Satan’s ethical code is better than God’s.”

That, presumably, was the point of creating them in the first place. But the whole enterprise is problematic, even as an attempt at mockery. The ten commandments are an ancient human invention, not a divine one. The same goes for Satan, who emerges from a figure with the title “the Accuser” (ha-Satan in Hebrew) and develops into a rebellious angel, before becoming a figure who stands as a symbol for individualist and capitalist selfishness in the hands of Anton LaVey, and more recently as a teacher of empathy and compassion in the hands of The Satanic Temple.

I am perfectly fine with people promoting empathy, compassion, concern for justice, freedom, and rejection of superstition.

But when it comes to empathy and justice, the Bible got there first. And when it comes to rejection of superstition, liberal Judaism and Christianity got there first. And so haughty self-righteous disdain from atheist latecomers seems inappropriate -not to mention being behavior at odds with some of the tenets of the Satanic Temple…

What do you make of websites/religious movements like this one? And what do you think of what online atheist voices have had to say about it? Click through some of the links embedded in the first sentence of the post above if you missed the comments from Valerie Tarico, Hemant Mehta, and John Loftus, among others. And see too my 2011 blog post, “Are Atheists Basically Just Like Liberal Believers?”

As promised, here’s the graphic with the seven tenets discussed in this post:

Satanit Temple Tenets

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  • Erp

    I suspect the problem is that some cling to the old words even as others build better things. I believe the Unitarian Universalists require that their seven principles be re-evaluated every few years.

    1st Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    2nd Principle: Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    3rd Principle: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    4th Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    5th Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
    7th Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
    And I know UUs who argue about them

    • David Evans

      I prefer these to the Satanists’. In particular I think equity and respect are more useful guides than empathy. One may find it impossible to empathize with other beings – particularly non-human ones – but still have an obligation to treat them with respect.

  • Mark

    The first tenet has us take account of all ‘creatures’.

  • http://brucegerencser.net/ Bruce Gerencser

    James, you say the Ten Commandments are a human invention. This is a true statement, but most American Christians likely think differently. If I asked a hundred Christians who is the author of the Ten Commandments, the overwhelming majority of them would say God (even though most of them couldn’t quote all Ten Commandments from memory).

    I suspect I know my fellow atheists much better than you do. Their reaction to the seven tenets vs. the Ten Commandments reflects their view on how American Christians use/misuse the commandments. Is the seven tenets superior to the Ten Commandments? That’s debatable, but I do appreciate the fact that the seven tenets are solidly rooted in the humanist ideal. Most atheists I know tend to react negatively to Evangelicalism, the dominate flavor of Christianity. Liberals like yourself are a small slice of the Christianity pie and are rarely the target of atheist writers who are critical of Christianity. Out of the thousands of posts I’ve written about Christianity, I can count on one hand those that were critical of liberal Christianity. I hate to say it James, but you liberal guys don’t matter.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      The age doesn’t matter, unless one is offering something as though it were exciting and innovative and neglecting the heritage on which it draws.

      I would dispute the claim that liberals don’t matter. We pioneered Biblical criticism, which is widely used by atheists as well as religious people, often without credit to that tradition.

      It is certainly the case that in the United States, we are a smaller slice of the pie than we have been in the past and than we are in other countries. But we are still a sizeable serving.

      • http://brucegerencser.net/ Bruce Gerencser

        I meant not mattering from the perspective of who atheist critics of religion spend their time writing about. I’m appreciative of the textual and historical work done by liberal Christian academics. That said, Evangelicalism, which in inherently fundamentalist, is the problem in America, not liberal Christians who want to a theocratic state.

      • James

        Liberal Christians certainly do matter. Unfortunately their voices, both politically and intellectually, are so often drowned out by the Evangelicals, especially in the USA. As Bishop Spong says, most of the noise comes from the shallow end of the pool, and consequently that’s where most atheists focus their attention… Most atheists that I know are at worst ambivalent towards liberal Christians; they can be good friends, political allies, make good conversation partners etc. Their specifically religious claims are generally considered to be no more credible than those of the evangelicals (their arguments are essentially the same). However, one seldom gets the usual whiff of arrogance, judgment, and self-righteous moral superiority, paired with bad arguments and a shifted burden of proof, from a liberal as one so often gets from Evangelicals.

  • Warren

    But when it comes to empathy and justice, the Bible got there first.

    And Newton got into physics before Einstein, and the Wright Brothers got into aviation before Boeing. Surely you must recognize that the old ways aren’t automatically the best?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Of course. Who here suggested otherwise? My point was about those who pretended that the 7 Tenets were anything other than a statement of a common contemporary viewpoint, one that is neither completely original, nor any more likely to look adequate a few millennia from now than any other set of tenets.

      • Kris Rhodes

        Sorry, who pretended those things?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Those who said “look at these great Satanic morals” and chose something concocted recently, ignoring the cultural influences on it, and chose to compare them with a very ancient code from a very different era in history. Anyone can do that and give themselves a nice sense of superiority over others.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

    when it comes to empathy and justice, the Bible got there first.

    Don’t pretend that the Bible did something novel here. When it comes to empathy and justice, the Bible “gave” humanity the values that it already had.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Who was pretending that? Obviously conservative Christians pretend that, but you seemed to be addressing me here rather than those with that sort of point of view.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        OK, thanks for the clarification of your position. But did I misunderstand your position above (certainly possible), or was it unclear?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          It could be either, or both. Any suggestions on how you would like me to figure out which, based on your short comments?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

            You’re talking about the Satanic Temple’s tenets. You say that this isn’t the bold slap at Christianity that one might imagine. You mentioned that “Satan” has changed with time (thank you). Finally, you say, “when it comes to empathy and justice, the Bible got there first.” That is, let’s give the Bible credit for what it got right.

            And from that, I responded as you see above. But apparently you’re saying that I got something wrong.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            The point was that one can find many of the positive principles enshrined in the Satanic Seven in the Bible as well, and one can find some pretty appalling stuff associated with the name Satan if one is so inclined.

          • Odd Jørgensen

            Hi Bob, don`t know if you`re familiar with 43alley and his videos on utube, so here goes: https://youtu.be/j-gbOnWj6Mw

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

            Thanks for the link

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Scott Paeth has blogged about this now, too: http://www.scottpaeth.com/2015/11/the-ethics-of-satan.html

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

    BTW, how are you liking World Table? Some of my long-time readers are more than annoyed by it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I am neither annoyed nor delighted. It seems like it has potential, and I think it would probably work just fine in its polished version, so at this stage my big question is whether they could incorporate or at least preserve all the comments that this blog has acquired, as I have no desire to run two systems indefinitely, and consider the loss of past comment unacceptable.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Good point–merging them all under WT would be nice.

        • Odd Jørgensen

          Are you moving away from disqus completely?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

            The way it’s set up on my blog is that comments can be made in World Table only as of 2 weeks ago. Before that, all the posts support both.

  • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

    Soooo, the moral code of one entity biblically accountable for between 10 and 60 deaths versus another who killed millions?

    I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison…